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Senators unsuccessful in stopping progress on 'Best & Brightest'


The Florida Senate's budget committee sent to the chamber floor this afternoon a sweeping education measure that includes controversial bonuses for Florida's "Best and Brightest" teachers.

Several senators unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Don Gaetz's move today to re-write his bill (SB 524), which now includes the teacher bonuses, capital funding reforms for charter schools and more than a dozen other education-related policies.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner argued Gaetz's re-write was "out of order" because it dealt with the subject of at least five other pending bills in the Senate -- topics of which, she argued, weren't "germane" to the purpose of the bill.

Originally, SB 524 dealt narrowly with public universities' performance funding.

Appropriations Chairman Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, rejected Joyner's challenge. He said Gaetz's vast amendment was valid because the proposed committee substitute of Gaetz's bill included a title change, indicating the bill dealt broadly with "education."

A few senators sought to tweak Gaetz's re-written bill with changes of their own. For instance, Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores wanted to allow teachers to have the option to qualify for the "Best and Brightest" bonuses using a "nationally accredited, advanced credential" in lieu of their high school SAT/ACT scores -- an alternative for which she previously advocated.

Gaetz opposed her change, and the rest of the committee rejected it.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, filed a hand-written amendment during the meeting that sought to jettison the "Best & Brightest" plan from Gaetz's re-write.

"I think we need to delete that to make this bill much much better," Hays said. "The idea of putting incentive programs out there to entice young people to come into the teaching profession, I would back it up all the way. But don’t make it insulting to those teachers that have been in the career for decades."

The bonus program rewards "highly effective" teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores in high school. Gaetz and House sponsor Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, describe it as a "recruitment and retention tool."

But critics, including the state's largest teachers union, argue it's not a fair way to reward teachers -- there's no proven correlation between student performance and teachers' high school exam scores -- and that it discriminates against older teachers and those who are minorities.

Hays' amendment was also shot down by a voice vote, which sounded close.

After all amendments were considered, there was no debate on the new version of SB 524. The 19-member committee advanced it to the Senate floor with three members voting in opposition: Hays, Joyner and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Another sweeping amendment Gaetz has proposed for a different education bill (SB 1166) had not yet been considered, as of 3:50 p.m. (More here.)